Fall Preview

Pavilion Point Trail

Location: Silver Plume

Length: 3.75 miles one way

Altitude gain: 900 feet

Highest point: 10,000 feet

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Of yore, mighty trainloads of silver-laden argentiferous ores poured down the slopes of Leavenworth Mountain on their way to distant smelters. Savvy prospectors can still find riches aplenty on Leavenworth’s steep flanks, although gold is king in Silver Plume these days, and his gala coronation is conducted anew each autumn in nature’s grand cathedral.

Silver Plume dons its autumn finery




For connoisseurs of fall finery, it doesn’t get any better than the Pavilion Point Trail, a relatively indulgent off-road amenity offering a delightfully intimate look at Clear Creek County’s most public seasonal spectacle. To stake your own claim, exit at Silver Plume, jog south under Interstate 70, and sidle west for a quarter mile along the dirt access road that parallels the highway. Then get out your camera, because you’ll need it.

A subtle mosaic


Plunging into dense pine and spruce, you’ll find yourself sauntering due east, and gaining height steadily, but not hastily. Within just a few hundred yards you’ll behold one of Clear Creek’s least-seen and most-enchanting panoramas – Silver Plume laid out beneath you in its pioneering entirety. But don’t fill up your photo-chip at the very first vantage, because the view only gets better.

The trail carves five long switchbacks through the forest on its way up the mountainside, and offers a remarkable showcase of Clear Creek’s sterling historical pedigree. That’s because it lies atop the ancient Argentine Central Railroad grade, which provides both an ascent gentle enough for heavily burdened steam engines and lightly conditioned pedestrians alike, and a very personal look at artifacts, great and small, from the Argentine’s bright mineral past. Massive ore-chutes lumber past at intervals, and mossy, dry-laid stone revetments support the ground beneath your feet. Short spurs projecting ahead at each about-face in the trail should be explored to the fullest, because each comes equipped with its own fascinating freight.


The bones of ancient industry


For our purpose, the trail concludes four miles from where it began, although persons of particular energy can follow the broad rail-bed into the high Argentine if they feel like it. You’ll know you’ve reached Pavilion Point when you meet a lonesome-looking stone chimney standing watch at a spot that, were it less densely wooded, might supply fine views of Georgetown. Promoters with more ambition than good fortune once undertook to construct a posh mountain resort in that place, but little besides the solitary smokestack remains.


End of the line


To the remote observer, Leavenworth Mountain appears only casually painted with Colorado’s signature softwood. And yet, be it by design or happy happenstance, the Argentine Central seems to steam straight through the heart of every quaking grove on the mountainside. In many places, towering specimens reaching up to catch the westering sun blaze like molten gold. In many others, dense concentrations of thin, white trunks press close enough to muffle all sound except the quiet swish of your feet through a carpet of brilliant doubloons.

Paved with gold

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of autumn on Pavilion Point is that so few people appreciate its unique gifts. But that just leaves more gold for you.

Picture perfect

Walkin’ the Dog

The rank and fashion of Clear Creek County was joined by dozens of hungry competitors from down the hill at Sunday’s fifth annual Westmuttster Dog Day Afternoon, Idaho Spring’s no-holds-barred answer to that other little dog show across the pond.


Spearheaded by Greg Markle and KYGT ‘The Goat” Radio, the popular event benefits Clear Creek County Animal Rescue League, a welcome yearly shot in the paw for a volunteer organization with about 35 animals under its care at any given time. Sunday’s affair at the football field in Idaho Springs netted about $2,000 for CCARL, a significant boost over last year’s take.

On the make for new homes, four hopeful residents of the Clear Creek Animal Shelter expertly worked the crowd. Peyton, a beautifully mottled pit-bullish puppy, wielded huge, soulful eyes with sweet efficiency while 4-year-old Opie, a cocker spaniel mix, used his friendly good nature to devastating effect. Mabel and Suzy, a spirited pair of black Labrador retriever pups, were not content with passive enticements and took to the field in search of new masters. The dogs had just four hours to win somebody’s heart.

Unlike its pretentious cousin, Westmuttster neither requires nor desires pedigrees of its participants and extends considerable competitive latitude to dogs and owners alike. Snoozer events such as ‘Best Groomed’ and ‘Posture’ have been replaced with nail-biting rousers like ‘Oldest Dog’ and ‘Most Disobedient,’ categories that better reflect the natural aptitudes of man’s best friend.

Master of Ceremony duties were divided between KYGT trollops Poochie and Smoochie, known better to intimates as Dede Waldron and Sally Shriner, and the bearded and mellow Rick Lewis in his Big Doggie Daddy persona. Between them, the trio deftly managed the chaos with a mixture of really bad dog puns and sound advice. “Pick up after your dogs,” Poochie admonished. She asked nicely, but everyone did it anyway.

pooperscoopThe afternoon’s soundtrack was provided courtesy of Jimmy Lewis and the Doggy Dos, a suggestive alias for area trio Jimmy Lewis and the Blue River Rounders. Their soulful music helped ease the terror everyone surely felt at the sight of a lofty stilt-walker looming all over the field in the company of an eerie harlequin. The kids seemed to like them, but what do kids know? Equally disturbing was a six-foot Garfield that hung around the event staging area. Though no one actually mistook that horrible apparition for the nearby cat-shaped pinata, whoever wore that costume was taking an awful chance.

A brutal maze of shallow wading pools and six-inch fences, the obstacle course was the most technically demanding of the afternoon’s events. More than simply a test of endurance and dexterity, a bewildering string of six traffic cones tried each dog’s navigational skills and an intimidating two-bale-high stack of hay measured their courage. Festooned with savory wieners, a diabolically tempting fixture in the middle of the course tested contestant’s competitive spirit. The failure rate was high – okay, total – but then these weren’t pampered, coached and coddled circuit-dogs with hair appointments and personal trainers. They were noble yard mutts with squirrels to chase and holes to dig and within each furry breast beat the heart of a klutzy, easily-diverted, cowardly, true champion.

dogbandTo lend the proceedings due gravity, all judges were drawn from the august ranks of Clear Creek County government and, with official-looking paper certificates at stake, organizers took pains to banish even the appearance of favoritism. On the table in front of each panel, a clearly-labeled bribe jar guaranteed every contestant an absolutely equal chance to bribe the snot out of the officials, a useful lesson for the younger set. How that money was pried from the clenched fists of the politicians and turned over to CCARL is not known. Insert your own acerbic observation here.

Competition for the coveted ‘Best Costume’ ribbon was demeaning and fierce. A brace of Pekinese in pink jumpsuits looked like an only-slightly-less-annoying version the Solid Gold Dancers, and one poor hound appeared to be sandwiched between half-loaves and garnished with mustard as if he were some kind of hand-held lunch entrée. Two contenders rose to the head of the pack.

Looking cool and confident behind mirrored sunglasses, 10-year-old Gus had brought his Dachshund, Lucky, for a third shot at the costume crown. “He was a doggie bag last year,” said the Idaho Springs resident, “and a caterpillar before that.” Neither manifestation had caught the judge’s imaginations so, this year, Lucky was dressed in a bright yellow rain slicker, sort of a Little Morton’s Salt Dog. It was bold, it was clever, but would it be enough?






“I’ve got the perfect costume this year,” declared Jenna, and 11-year-old from Dumont. Jenna recently discovered a treasure trove of plush toy accessories at a Lakewood mall and her miniature Schnauzer, Amelia, was wearing most of them. Deliberations were intense, corruption rampant. In the end, the judges were moved by Amelia’s flowered blue underwear and Jenna took the crown.

“Lucky doesn’t like wearing the costume,” Gus said, by way of explanation. Bruised but unbowed, he and Lucky set their caps for the prestigious “Worst Breath” contest, for which Lucky was well-prepared. “Today he’s had salami, jerky and cat’s business.” Cat’s business? “He gets into the cat’s litter box.” Oh. That could be hard to beat.

Buoyed by their success, Jenna and Amelia prepared for “Most Disobedient,” a difficult category, to judge by the unruly pack on the field. “She won’t do anything I tell her,” Jenna said, confidently. To demonstrate, she repeatedly – and fruitlessly – ordered Amelia to sit. It wasn’t until Jenna gave up that Amelia squatted down to water the grass. If they could reproduce that performance in front of the judges, they’d be a shoo-in.

Of course, Dog Day Afternoon isn’t just about competition and prizes, it’s also about nourishing the “whole dog.” Numerous vendors were on hand offering everything from nutritious dog snacks and dog diet plans to dog massages and dog Reike. Dog photographers and dog portrait artists were doing a brisk business among owners who have trouble remembering what their dogs look like.

1104173_110702120036_fun-frisbeeDEO Speedwagon, a top-drawer flyball team from Denver, set up a demonstration of the sport at the west end of the field. For those not familiar with flyball, it’s essentially an exciting blend of steeple chase and relay race run by dogs using tennis balls as batons. It’s a concentrated, fast-paced entertainment and a good time for man and beast.

Somewhere between all the Frisbee catching and the dog-trick demonstrations, someone brought out Skota the Singing Dog. A malamute-y sort of pooch that would look at home in front of a sled, Skota played the silent Diva until howls of encouragement from the audience loosed her voice, at which point she gave a creditable performance. Any suggestion that her recital was perfunctory or lacked interpretive nuance should be considered jealous grumbling of lesser talents.

New this year, the “Best Smile” competition was perhaps the best-attended event of the day. It should be noted that, on a balmy afternoon under a cloudless sky, distinguishing between two kazillion grinning dogs is akin to naming the worst headache at a bagpipe festival. Everybody’s a winner.

Rather than encourage misbehavior directly on the field, judges in the “Most Disobedient” contest relied on scathing testimonials from owners about their pet’s routine noncompliance and mutinous insubordinations. Unable or unwilling to completely trash Amelia before the world, Jenna sacrificed the prize to a troublesome mutt who allegedly “…barks too much and won’t listen to grandma.” Well, winning isn’t everything.

dogbreath_toothbrush_03During “Worst Breath” inspections, it was heartwarming to see the judges, determined to properly carry out their unpleasant duty, crouch on the ground and stick their noses into maw after drooling, reeking maw. As politicians, of course, they may be fairly accustomed to the stink of the cesspool, but it was inspiring all the same. Incredibly, Lucky was passed over in favor of Bon Jovi, a poodle from Parker, though what that poor dog could have eaten to out-stink “cat’s business” doesn’t bear contemplation. Insert your own Bon Jovi remark here.

Win, lose or draw, the fourth annual Westmuttster Dog Day Afternoon was a barking good time and a lot of animals who need help will get it thanks to the generosity of the event’s organizers, sponsors and guests. And what of the four shelter pups? By day’s end, Suzy was adopted out-right, Opie was matched with a foster family and a couple expressed strong interest in Peyton. Three out of four ain’t bad, they say, and every dog has his day.

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A Proper Patriotic Party

Looking down the barrel of a three-day weekend, a lot of people would rather spend the Fourth of July hiking, boating, barbecuing or burning up the highway between here and Aunt Myrtle’s house than spend their precious time off on patriotic frivolities.

Who can blame them? These are busy times, after all, and Colorado’s a busy place. Traditionalists, however, may crave an old-fashioned, flag-waving, watermelon-on-the-lawn sort of Independence Day, and there may be others for whom dear old Gotham has become a trifle warm, of late. For those patriotic citizens and willful exiles, a short drive west into the cool, welcoming bosom of Clear Creek County offered a summer holiday the way Norman Rockwell would have painted it.


Georgetown is a picturesque delight in any season. On Monday, with smiling families strolling casually along its shady lanes and pretty, smiling girls and handsome, smiling boys lining historic, flag-draped 6th Street, it was the very picture of America like Hollywood producers and political campaign managers imagine it. Except in Georgetown, on Monday, it was the real thing.

“It’s like going back 50 years,” said local author Sandra Dallas. “There’s a lot of patriotism and a whole lot of town spirit.” Dallas and her husband, Bob Atchison, had been tapped to Judge the Fourth of July parade – no small honor, one would think. “It’s because I have a house on Rose Avenue.”

In a fit of practicality going back four decades, Georgetown selects its parade judges from its citizenry living along the route. At 10 a.m., just an hour before go-time, the porch of Dallas’ small, pink clapboard house was getting heavy traffic from local partisans, some softening her up in favor of a particular entrant, others quietly tipping her off to the patent failings of others. It was distasteful and underhanded and thoroughly, charmingly, American. Dallas, of course, had her own preconceptions about what a champion should look like.


“The winners are usually fairly obvious,” she said. “I’ll probably give the award to my nephew.” That would be 2-year-old Forrest, who was scheduled to be pulled around the circuit in a little red wagon. Confronted by such overwhelming candor, one could do little but retreat to 6th Street and wait for Forrest to rattle by.

Built during a simpler age in a narrow space between purple mountain majesties, downtown Georgetown is a wonderfully intimate place to view a parade. Joe and Kathy Schmidt came early, staking out an advantageous corner location next to the Red Ram. Comfortable in folding chairs and holding a pair of flaxen-haired angels on their laps, The Schmidts live in Denver but make a yearly Independence Day pilgrimage to Georgetown.

“The parade, the fireworks, the water fight,” Kathy said, “we love it all.” The “water fight” is, more correctly, the Bucket Brigade Race scheduled for 2 p.m., but nobody seems to call it that, since the contest tends to spin quickly – and wetly – out of control. The Schmidts will spend the bulk of the day drying off, eating, strolling about town, relaxing by Clear Creek and anticipating the fireworks over Guanella Pass at dusk. “To be really good,” Joe explained, “fireworks have to echo off the mountains.”

At 11 a.m., a color guard of Marines in dress uniform led off bearing Old Glory and the banner of the Corps. To a person accustomed to the jaded indifference of the 21st century, the sight of hundreds of men instinctively removing their caps in deference to the flag was surprising and incredibly poignant. It was just the beginning. Little Forrest got a run for his money that day, and Dallas was not to be envied her high office.

A formation of old soldiers in white shirts and slacks, proud veterans of long-ago wars, marched down the street in close order, stopping at intervals and turning sharply to salute the crowd. They were followed by a procession of men who had fought in the last great battle of World War II, the bloody capture of Iwo Jima. Those aged and necessary reminders of the price of freedom gave way to more festive spectacles like a troupe of kilted bagpipers playing patriotic ditties like “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” It’s impossible to really appreciate that song until it’s rendered on the pipes.


It was hard to guess the crowd’s favorite because it clearly loved everything that came down the pike, but the steady applause seemed to gain intensity when the Easter Seals HandiCamp contingent moved past behind a camp bus they had, themselves, painted up special for the occasion. Some walking, others following in wheelchairs, the young campers regarded the cheering multitudes with curiously dreamy smiles, perhaps unaccustomed to so much positive attention, and the crowd responded in spades.

Perhaps the most stirring moment of the parade was provided by the Clear Creek County Democrats. Led by a hearty band of pedestrians waving and tossing candy to potential swing-voters on either side, their grand convoy included a shining white jeep and a pair of stately American-made convertibles loaded with party notables and colorful signage proclaiming support for favored political representatives. The message of those few, those happy few, was a better America, and it is no exaggeration to say that gentlemen of Georgetown then abed shall think themselves accursed they were not there, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that saw the Democrats parade down 6th Street on Independence Day.

Jugglers, ancient giant-tired bicycles, squadrons of classic automobiles, brass bands, a semi-precision kazoo ensemble and whole cavalry brigades of youngsters tooling around on their way-over-decorated red-white-and-blue bikes – Georgetown’s parade was pretty much everything one wants to see on a bright, summer morning and almost never does.

Though no award was offered to Monday’s spectators, they deserved one. Their painted faces, funny hats and boundless enthusiasm made the event wonderfully interactive. One wouldn’t think a glittery tiara sprouting a pair of spinning antennae would produce a lump in the throat, but it does.


So who did Dallas like? Her top honor went to the Silver Plume School float, a very purple, largely inflatable, rugrat-intensive display that likes schools that are open and said so.

“It’s kind of political,” Dallas explained, “but when kids get together to ask you to save their school…” A shrug finished her sentence for her. Forrest may forgive his Aunt Sandra when he’s older. Maybe a lot older.

Following the parade, most people adjourned to City Park, a shady precinct of lush grass and beautiful trees where Georgetown’s industrious ladies were dishing up mighty plates of everything good to eat. At noon, looking like it had been installed in the park’s gazebo during construction, the already-ubiquitous Original Cowboy Band let loose with a rousing program of true-blue American tunes while contented families reclined on the lawn licking their fingers and patting their tummies. It was the Fourth of July in Mayberry without the oppressive humidity and irritating drawls.

Clear Creek County’s excellent Fourth of July observances aren’t confined to Georgetown, of course, and knowledgeable observers insist that Idaho Springs has been setting the standard for top-notch fireworks since the mid-1960s. There are, apparently, a lot of knowledgeable observers because three hours before show time there wasn’t an unoccupied inch of grass anywhere within three blocks of Miner Street.

True savants gravitate to the city parking lot sandwiched between Miner Street and Interstate 70, four blocks of folding chairs, hibachis and heady anticipation that directly face Bridal Veil Falls and Charley Tayler’s impressive water wheel, the Idaho Springs landmarks that help give the town’s pyrotechnic display it’s luminous reputation. The lot was also a sort of pre-display area where state-approved fireworks available to ordinary people were ignited in great numbers. Because Colorado law prohibits civilians from purchasing explosive fireworks, one must conclude that Idaho Springs was thick with small-arms fire that afternoon.

Determined to get a good spot, Stacy Fawcett and Chris Skipp arrived from Littleton at 1 p.m. and settled in to wait for darkness. Neither had seen the display before, but both were already amiably disposed toward the town.

“We have great memories of Idaho Springs,” Fawcett said. “We usually stop by Tommyknockers or the Buffalo Bar on the way back from fishing.” This year, they decided to make the town their destination instead of a way-station. “Some friends come here every year and told us we shouldn’t miss the fireworks, so here we are.”

A short distance away, Floyd Hill resident Linda Beasler acted as reluctant spokeswoman for a party of eight enjoying their umpteenth Independence Day in Idaho Springs. Its comfy seating, well-stocked coolers and expansive buffet table mark the group as seasoned enthusiasts. Parked in the first rank with an unimpeded view of the adjacent hillside, one might assume they had been there since first light. Not so.

“That’s why we have teenagers,” Beasler laughed. “We sent them here at 6:30 with two cars to grab our spot.” It’s that kind of enterprise and exploitation of child labor that made America the powerhouse it is today.


According to the Idaho Springs Fire Department, the show was to begin at “dusk.” The opening salvo, a glorious, blazing representation of Old Glory, was actually fired at 9:25 which is really more like “night.” Anyway, it was well worth the wait. What followed was a solid 50 minutes of superbly choreographed fireworks that lit up the surrounding hills and rebounded powerfully off the canyon walls. Thousands gasped in simultaneous admiration when a lengthy string of pyrotechnics strung across the hillside was lit, sending a shower of sparks cascading down the falls and backlighting the water wheel with a fiery curtain of stars. It would have been impressive anywhere but, thanks to Idaho Springs’ unique geography, it was pure magic.

At 10:15, a flaming banner reading “Goodnite ISFD” signaled the end of the show and the beginning of the desperate race to get onto the highway before the streets became a solid, creeping mass of frustrated motorists. It’s a yearly ritual that has done nothing to detract from the event’s popularity.


Independence Day means different things to different people, and spending the day mowing the lawn or finally taking down the Christmas lights can be legitimate acts of patriotism. Still, it’s heartening to know that there are places in Colorado’s high country where the Fourth of July is a full-blown celebration of national and community pride. In Clear Creek County, nobody needs an invitation to attend America’s best birthday party. They just need to relax and enjoy the fun.